Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Response to a Criticism about Using Twitter in the Classroom

As a teacher who uses Twitter on a daily basis with high school students, I've been asked by a handful of folks to respond to this article. The gist of the post is that Twitter can't work in a classroom.

I must say I am hesitant to write this response; I know that I can come across as pedantic at times, and that's really not what I want to do here.

Therefore, I will limit my comments and point readers in the direction of previous pieces I wrote concerning both the use of Twitter in class (although with my updated hashtags work, it's definitely time to update that post!) as well as student responses to using Twitter in class.

I do ask forgiveness from the original blogger for taking so much of the following chunk of text, but it's impossible to comment here in a way that would be most effective without actually presenting the example as originally posted.
Sometimes I think that folks dream of the following as being the kinds of conversations that students would have using twitter:

S1: In Bio listening to a great lecture on cell division. She ROCKS!
S2: Reading "Chapter 7" for Mr Wilson. Not my favorite so far but I'll get through it
S3: Great quote from Mr B: "History is written by the winners." He said it's not his original quote, tho'
S4: @S1 Mrs D is awesome! Looking forward to 5th period when I'll hear it, too
S4: @S2 Tell me about it. I've got to read it tonight. But I'm a fast reader.
S2: Anyone know a good website to help me to understand Chapter 7?
S1: @S3 Yeah, I heard that quote before, too. Hold on and I'll look it up for you.

Now, THIS is what would PROBABLY happen if students used twitter:

S1: wht's 4 lunch? I'm staving!
S2: NFW I'm readg that @#$ Chapter 7. Hes got 2 B Sh*ttin' me!
S3: "History is writn by th winners?" DUH!
S4: I get out of her class 5th period, dude! S*cks 2 B U!
S4: @S1 its only 9:30 dude! U cnt B hungry alrdy U pig!
S2: Any1 know if any of ths @#$% in Ch 7 will B on the test?
S1: @S3 No duh! Who ELSE wld write it. Hes so lame!

Actually, neither example has anything to do with the way we use Twitter in class.

While conversation is one use of Twitter, there are plenty of others.

As I've described before, my students use their feeds as lifelines on quizzes and tests, as a way to share links and organize collaborative assignments, as a tool for hashtagging collaborative reference bibliographies, and as a collaborative note-taking backchannel during lecture and class discussion. We also use Twitterfall as a discussion starter and I project our Twitter feed on the wall throughout all of our classes to remind students about the global ramifications of what we are doing by learning together in a classroom.

If your students aren't able to handle using Twitter like this, then you don't have a problem with Twitter; you have a problem with classroom management.

Will you get some of what was presented above in your feeds? Sure. But does that outweigh the benefit? No way; at least not from my own experience actually using Twitter everyday in class.

Social Media is not a monolith.

It doesn't tell you what to do. There are no rules.

There are countless ways to use Twitter; the key is that the use of the social media needs to be fully integrated into the teaching -- specifically for the purpose of teaching the content and skills of the course. So, the trick is to figure out how to do that for your course. And there's a good chance that a PLN model isn't gonna work for your kids.

As for WHY it's important for kids to take part in authentic social media (rather than the walled garden variety), I wrote a post yesterday where I tried to sort of lay out the framework of what we're looking at on the future grid of 21st century education. It's my attempt to argue what authenticity in education means now and for the future, and I'd welcome any criticism of it.

Anyway, Social Media is what you make it. It's yours to tinker with. So, use your imagination.

As for worries about how kids might abuse it? I really wouldn't worry about that so much, so long as you are incorporating ongoing discussions of digital citizenship into your lessons. After all, kids can write all kinds of nonsense on a sheet of paper and spread it around school, as well; they've been doing that for generations. Yet, I don't see too many teachers wondering whether we should allow them to write.

We're the teachers. We're the ones who need to model good citizenship in that classroom. We're the ones who have to model the effective use of Twitter and social media in our classrooms. It comes down to us, not to the technology.


  1. As someone who teaches with backchannels open (though usually using TodaysMeet), I find both his examples bizarre. Even at the beginning, there's power in the social aspect of this, for student and teacher. It adds another, and somewhat more authentic, layer to the conversation. A layer which brings in students who may not communicate other ways, and which lets me, as the instructor, know my class's needs. The stream stays surprisingly on target, with breaks - of course - humans do laugh and are concerned about time and food.

    But this all presumes that I am interested in what my students are thinking. And that I assume that my students are interested in each others' thoughts. If I was teaching in a one-way mode, Twitter, et al, would seem worthless.

    - Ira Socol

  2. lost when you posted a
    -dream feed
    -probably feed

    ...but then you didn't post ACTUAL FEED?
    Meh. So much for science and comparison. Next.

  3. Also, so much for my ability to spell and use correct grammar.

  4. Great response. We need teacher to stop being afraid of technology and stay ahead of students when it comes to new tools. Great work.

  5. Great response to the article. I am a proactive participant for sharing BBPs (Best Business Practices) with all types of social media. Sharing the knowledge that once you hit the submit button, there is no recall, only damage control, if that is possible.

    As with anything that is prohibited by adults, the student's (child or adult) desire feeds into a way to access it.

    I battle with this in the military and the education environments. I am the frustrated connector between those who are connected and those who are digitally disconnected. With the anti social networkers, I can usually find someone in their peer group who can get to them if I cannot.

  6. I don't know how you have the students post to twitter, but I plan on using tweetboard next year.

    I've got it plugged into our ning for examples:

    I can't say whether it's any good, but it seems like a nice way to get students on twitter while still being on our class's social network.

  7. yeah, spelling and grammer helped me get my masters degree and helps me communicate better, more efficiently and more directly to my target audience.... This is sarcasm.

    Correct spelling and grammer is only considered correct because someone said it was. If we begin to communicate through shortening our sentences and by the amount of symbols used to communicate a word ("gr8" instead of "great") and everyone understands, then it is quality communication. You just aren't learning the language the majority of people are speaking.

  8. sorry - last post sounds more angry than it's meant to. Oh, the irony

  9. I find all the yahyah about Twitter very interesting. I teach 5th graders and since I began using Twitter in my class I've seen more eager learners than I've seen in years. My 5th graders are researching and responding on their own and contributing meaningful to classroom discussions. They are also reminding each other of assignments and test. Yes, I have had some concerned parents and yes I've had a few "incidents" but we can't roll back technology only try to wrap our minds around a new way to teach!

  10. "If your students aren't able to handle using Twitter like this, then you don't have a problem with Twitter; you have a problem with classroom management."

    that is why teahcers don't want to use technology...because they don't know how to manage a classroom.

    Great discussion.

  11. Educational standards quit caring about spelling a long time ago, so why care about spelling when it comes ot technology. In my state when a student turns in a portfolio, it is only how the piece is written and the content of the piece that matters...spelling errors mean nothing to the overall grade of the piece.

    Now Grammar...that still needs to be taught...speaking in TXT drives me crazy...OMG

  12. OH how I wish I hadn't made that post about using Twitter in the classroom with students. OH how I wish I had let it sit for a day until I had a chance to think about more. Oh how I wish I could unring that bell.

    But, since that time, and as a result of the many comments on that post, I've thought about it a LOT. One commenter suggested that the reason my students would act up is because I had poor classroom management skills. Actually, I was very lucky to have taught programming and I think I had a very good rapport with my students. So, while I can see why that person would have said that, I don't believe it's the case.

    I've had the opportunity to sit with four teachers who use twitter in class as you have described, and it seems to be working very well for them. I like the idea of hashtags so that they can follow the conversation. And, I like that they learn the responsible use of such a medium. All good stuff.

    In the class that I've been teaching, I use the backchannels at every opportunity. And, I had the teachers sign up on twitter and start to follow some other educators. They, too, have been experiencing the value of twitter from a personal learning standpoint.

    Yes, I'd LOVE to take down that post, but that's now how it's done. You put it out there and you take the heat when it's deserved - as in this case. I just hope that my entire body of thought in my blog (that dates back to 2005) won't be dismissed because of this one fooling rambling.

    Oh well... we move forward

  13. We have come to the point of realizing that twitter can be used effectively in the classroom as well as the office if used in the correct method with monitoring.

  14. Enjoyed reading the post... and the comments.

  15. Everyone's tweeting, so why not use it in class, good post.

  16. I think your innovations are great and worth emulating.


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